Establishing service standards to mitigate risks

Paul Boag

Internal web teams should have a set of service standards within which they work. This ensures a quality of deliverable and provides an operational framework.

Some of the clients we work with at Headscape have in excess of two hundred websites currently online with over seven hundred different individuals contributing to those sites. This leaves these organisations at significant risk.

The risks of the web

There are the risks associated with an inconsistent experience. Damage to brand values, poor user experience and a lack of joined up customer service. These risks are real, but the damage is limited to losing customers.

However, there are more serious risks too. The risk of breaching legal requirements in terms of accessibility or data protection. Not to mention legislation over the use of cookies, unsolicited communication or sector specific regulatory requirements.

Add to all of that the accumulated costs associated with building and managing these websites. It quickly becomes apparent that the web (if poorly managed) can be a potential liability for these organisations.

Standards mitigate risk

There is no single answer to a problem of this nature and magnitude. However, apart of it is the adoption of a set of service standards.

These standards should provide a framework that ensures certain criteria are considered and legal or regularity requirements met. They should tackle areas such as…

  • A user centric approach
  • Clear lines of reporting
  • Privacy standards
  • Data protection standards
  • Tools and systems assessment
  • Procurement processes
  • Development methodology (e.g. Agile)
  • Performance standards and benchmarking
  • Key performance indicators
  • Testing and refinement standards
  • Accessibility requirements
  • Consistent design styling
  • Continual review and iteration
  • System integration
  • Standards for the creation, updating and removal of content
  • Standards defining the criteria by which a website is retired

It should be expected that websites are developed to these standards, but that they should also be maintained over the sites lifetime.

Enforcing standards

Establishing and enforcing a set of standards such as these in a highly devolved organisation such as a University or Government body can be difficult, but it is necessary. Even if the standards are seen as recommendations, rather than enforceable requirements, they should still be in place. If an organisation such as the Government Digital Service can push through standards, then there is no reason to think it is not possible within other organisations if the will exists.

Also because of the high level of risk, both in terms of legal liability and financial impact, it should not be too hard to gain senior managements approval for at least a basic set of standards.

These standards should be owned and championed by an individual. It requires somebody whose job it is to ensure these standards are implemented and who can also keep them up-to-date in the fast moving world of the web.

To suggest that such standards are unnecessary and that groups can operate independently, fails to grasp the implications of one group publicly failing to meet its obligations online.

“Total Quality Management Customer Satisfaction Concept” image courtesy of